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Oh, The Debt That You'll Pay!

By Gloria Diaz

Check out Gloria's Blog — Edge of Gloria!

Fort Wayne Reader

2007-06-05


It’s the time of year where people are graduating. Everyone wishes them well and says all sorts of encouraging things, predicting great things for these new grads.

I wish I could join in on all this, but being a realist (okay, pessimist) I feel it’s my duty to warn these folks that their newly minted degree won’t necessarily get them that dream career, or even a dream job. Oh, you might end up with a job, but ironically enough, it won’t be a job that requires a degree or even a huge amount of brains.

For those of you wondering just what the hell happened to working hard to get a degree and maintaining a fairly responsible level of behavior but are ending up not realizing their dreams or even working in their own field, I offer the following books for you to read. Sometimes with all our preparation, planning, analyzing, and hard work, stuff just doesn’t turn out right. Don’t feel alone. Look at these books and realize there is another America out there, one they don’t want you to know about but you’ll probably discover yourself, unfortunately.

"Nickel and Dimed" and "Bait and Switch", by Barbara Ehrenrich: Can a woman booted off welfare possibly survive on $8 an hour? Can someone with a college degree and other marketable skills find a job in Corporate America paying $50,000 a year, with benefits? The answer, according to Ehrenrich, is no. For a year, she worked low-wage jobs to see if she could scrape by and manage to pay for another month’s rent. Turns out she couldn’t. The rent she is forced to pay buys her tiny hotel rooms that rent by the week, or housing that isn’t exactly up to either health or safety standards. Her story of trying to make ends meet while working two jobs (she spent time working at a nursing home, as a Wal-martian, a maid, a hotel housekeeper and a waitress) is both hilarious and frightening. Ehrenrich realizes she doesn’t have to permanently stay in that world, but she realizes there are people who actually have to; people who may or may not have as much intelligence or talent as those “lucky” enough to have graduated college. In Bait and Switch, after writing about people living in poverty, she turns to the new disenfranchised, namely those who got through high school without getting pregnant or in other serious trouble, those who worked hard and graduated college, in short ordinary types who are now jobless. Wouldn’t these people have a better chance of getting a decent paying job than some woman fresh off welfare? You’d think, but Ehrenrich proves that isn’t the case. She subjects herself to job fairs, seminars, coaches and personality tests (one revealed the fact that she probably wasn’t a very good writer, which is ironic since Ehrenrich has written several books) and spent thousands of dollars in the quest for a “good” job. After several months, she is offered a position with AFLAC. It doesn’t offer insurance; they won’t let her use an office (associates are strongly recommended to use their home offices) and has to purchase a laptop for her job before she even starts. She proves that the skills and personality that enabled her father to rise up from the mines to a high ranking management position would probably get him fired today, or if not fired, he’d never make it out of the mines. This is a sobering book for any college graduate who wonders why, if he or she did everything "right”, why everything is going so horribly wrong on the job scene.

"Generation Debt", by Anya Kamenetz. In here are stories of college grads in thousands of dollars of debt brought on by their educations, which they realize are not getting them jobs that they can live on. There’s at least one success story in here, but Kamenetz paints a grim picture for those 35 and younger. I’ve got news for Kamenetz; it’s not just the younger set that’s hurting. She brings up the issue of health care insurance, pursuing your dream vs. pursuing a practical career and the older generation’s lack of compassion for the situation.

Things really AREN’T like they used to be; twenty years ago, corporate downsizing didn’t exist, and outsourcing jobs to India would have seemed like a bizarre concept. If you worked full time for a company, there was no question whether or not you had health care. Showing initiative would have gotten you the job.

Now, you apply for jobs online, not even interacting with a human. If you get a card rejecting your application, count yourself as lucky. Working a factory job right now? It probably won’t be for long. Sure, you’re only making maybe $8 an hour, but there’s someone in Mexico that will do it for less. And the company knows it. Health care? If it’s available, it might not be affordable, at least on the wages you earn.

That being said, “Congratulations Grads!” And yes, I do want fries with that.

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